TROUBLE AT ALTITUDE
By Patrick Mauro
Within the last 48 hours, the rift between Denver Broncos’ new coach Josh McDaniels and quarterback Jay Cutler grew from slight to severe. The conflict stems from the fact that the 32-year old McDaniels talked with his old team the New England Patriots about trading his Pro Bowl quarterback and the face of the franchise plus the 12th pick in next month’s draft for quarterback Matt Cassell - the guy who hadn’t started a game since high school, seven years ago, before Tom Brady’s sabbatical to recover from a knee injury (and hang with a super model). Trading Cutler straight up for Cassell is asinine, but throwing in the 12th overall pick as well should be grounds for immediate dismissal.
According to “that big sports network” one unnamed source (I hate unnamed sources) claims that during a conference call earlier this week McDaniels was unwilling to give Cutler the assurances he expected to hear, instead choosing the rhetoric that no one is immune from the possibility of being traded, leading the quarterback to contemplate not showing up for off-season conditioning. A second unnamed source disputes this, claiming all is copasetic in Colorado. The truth surely lies somewhere in the middle, but I’m leaning towards source number one.
My first inclination is to say Josh McDaniels should simply walk into Broncos owner Pat Bowlen’s underground lair and resign right now, but often in sports the wrong person takes the heat for ineptitude. Think of Matt Millen, the former general manager of the Detroit Lions who should go down as the all-time worst at his job in NFL history if not all of professional sports (on this planet or any other). He took the heat from picketing fans, a-hole bloggers, and was ridiculed so badly he got hired by “that big sports network” – but what about the individual whose decision it was to allow Millen, at high speed, to run the franchise into a tree? That would be William Clay Ford Jr., who himself was busy running the Ford Motor Company into that same tree. Why don’t fans hold owners more responsible?
Which brings me back to Bowlen, a guy who accepted mediocrity for a decade from Mike Shanahan because the former coach delivered two Lombardi Trophies – with a little help from a guy named Elway. With Cutler, plus the socially problematic but extremely talented Brandon Marshall and a rebuilt offensive line, the future of the offense, without Shanahan, appeared solid. That is until Bill Belichick’s former assistant took over. In his brief tenure, McDaniels has signed a lot of new (new doesn’t mean better) names to the defense along with alienating his biggest star. It’s now Bowlen’s job to make this situation right.
And why the titillation with guys who have worked for the Patriots dictator? He’s a complete control freak to the point where you have to wonder how much of their job any Belichick assistant is allowed to do (I can picture the Pat’s coach manning the cheat-cam himself). It’s not like Belichick’s disciples have had much success when leaving New England – Romeo Crennel failed in Cleveland, Charlie Weis is making Notre Dame fans look back fondly at the Jerry Faust/Bob Davie years, and Spygate-tattle tail Eric Mangini was canned by the Jets (although that probably had more to do with Brett Favre than anything else, and he did replace Crennel in Cleveland). Not sure what inspired Bowlen to hire McDaniels. We’ve all known people who interview well, but are then less than inspiring on the job. Maybe he rocked the interview. There’s definitely a trend towards hiring younger guys (doubt it breaks anyone’s heart Marty Schottenheimer can’t get a job). Mike Tomlin just won the Super Bowl at 36, Jon Gruden won it all at age 38, but time may prove Bowlen hired the wrong youngster. He interviewed, and should have hired, 32-year old Raheem Morris, former defensive backs coach in Tampa Bay and now Gruden’s replacement as head coach of the Bucs.
For the sake of the franchise, Bowlen must channel his inner Jerry Jones, get involved, and figure out a way to smooth things over between McDaniels and Cutler. If he can’t or won’t do that, 2009 could be a year to forget in the Rockies.
Listen to Patrick Mauro’s syndicated radio show weekends 10p-1a west coast time at www.sportsbyline.com